Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Humor is an Arrow in Your Writerly Quiver

I did a post a while back on how using humor is a great way to 'get away with stuff'.  But the video below - which had me laughing until I cried, as well as squirming in my seat - got me thinking about another use for humor:

Humor builds bridges.  If, like me, you're writing for a young audience, or your books are addressing difficult topics, don't underestimate how much value humor can add.  When people are laughing they rarely stop to judge.  And if they aren't judging, you've already got a foot in the door to their hearts.

I wouldn't suggest using humor to marginalize important issues, but used as a tool, it can break down barriers and get people thinking.  You can take the sting out of scary, or the fidgets out of fear.

Or you can just have a dang good time. 

Case and point:

Let the humor be organic and understated, but use it just like you'd use a plot point or a character arc: intentionally.

Your Turn: Can you name a book that used humor to break down walls or bring the reader on board with something, or someone that was objectionable?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Who Are You and What Do You Need?

I'm a researcher at heart.  Whether it's vacation options for the summer, or the publishing industry, I give a lot of time to finding out what's out there and what will work best for me.  I read a dozen blogs a day relating to writing and publishing, and have subscriptions to several of the industry websites.

I want to make sure I'm sharing the best and most useful parts of what I learn with you.  So take the six question survey below, tell me what kind of writer you are, and what kinds of information you'd find the most helpful.  I'll make sure Seeking the Write Life is the best blog for you.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Five Ways to Have Fun With Those Imaginary Friends We Call "Characters"

Sometimes we can get so focused on technical brilliance or plotting or character development, writing loses some of its delight. 

Below are just a handful of things you could do for fun.  Silly things to help you remember why you love these characters, where the joy of writing comes from, or just to have a laugh:

1. Make Wii Mii's of your favorite characters and play them in tennis.

2. Use Google Images to search up physical features or hobbies (don't search on actor's names) and find your character's 'real person' doppelganger.

3. Make a fake Twitter account for your hero / heroine / villain then have a conversation with them online.

4. Write a blogpost in the character's voice, describing their most embarrassing moment.

5. Write a scene between the real you and your hero / heroine wherein the hero / heroine beats up or burns the person who jacked on you in high school. 

Your Turn: What do you do for the pure fun of being a writer?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I'd Like to Introduce You to My Friends "Cause" & "Effect"

Having trouble pinning down an agent?  Certain your premise is a winner, but struggling to get anyone to read long enough to see it?

One thing that's utterly crucial for first-time novelists is suspension of disbelief.  The reader has to fall into your world and follow your story with zero "Really?" moments.  I think two things contribute to opening a book in a way that draws the reader in this way:

- Minimal backstory
- Maximum cause and effect.

A few weeks ago I posted advice from Taylor Mali suggesting every writer had to base every word they wrote in the physical world.  To my mind the most important thing he said was:

"...Don't expect anyone to listen to your advice and ignore your examples..."

I think a common misconception is that Cause and Effect are plotting devices: Love + Jealousy = Intrigue.  Rage + Obstacle = Murderous Intent.  Lust + Time = Love, etc - that if we simply put the right elements in a room together, we have created cause and effect.

While there's some basic foundational truth there, cause and effect goes much, much deeper.

Real, day to day life is driven by cause and effect.  Every move, every decision, is rooted in cause.  And every action creates effect.

To wit:
I have a manuscript to finish, so I write.  I am hungry, I eat.  I love my husband, I pick up his dry-cleaning.  My son runs a fever, I make a doctor's appointment....

Simple, right?

Let's take it down another level...

I have a hunger to be a published writer - I read books about the craft of fiction, study the advice of those who've achieved what I am aiming for.  I want my characters to be realistic - I observe the life and feelings of those around me.  I need an agent and a publisher - I query, and submit, and edit and wait...
But it goes deeper than that too:

I am inherently driven by a need to prove myself - to those detractors who, in my junior high and high school years told me I was nothing, hated, ugly and worthless; to the university professors who told me I was ill-disciplined, untalented, never going to be good enough; and to the adults who have (and do, and will) inwardly scoff at the idea I could ever be a success, because "She's just Aimee.  She's normal.  She's nothing special."

So I don't just write, I strive.

"Cause" can be anything from an unexpected phone call, to car crash, to a harsh word from a parent when the character was five. 

"Effect" is demonstrated in every detail from getting dressed in the morning, to one character setting out to murder another.

Really good writing doesn't just let cause hang in the wind, whipping the characters too and fro.  Really good writing delves deep.  It lets every detail have a point and gives every character intent a foundation.  Events and actions, big and small, are twined and tangled until the ultimate moment when every single event and intent collide in a cacophony of Effects.

The reader heaves a sigh of relief, not simply because the Hero has won the day, but because when they look back they can clearly see every action and reaction logically drawn from and pointing to this moment.  Emotions have been spent, actions have had consequences, now reactions will end the day.

Dig deeper, friends.  In yourself and in your characters.  And watch brilliance unfold.

Your Turn: What comes to mind when you think of 'cause and effect'?  Does the concept enter your writing process?